70s is the New 50s JCC members overcome challenges with exercise

Lorenzo Sullivan and Diane Owens forged a friendship during their time at the Valley of the Sun Jewish Community Center. Sullivan has achieved his fitness goal while Owens has been practicing Zumba for roughly nine years. (Photo by Pablo Robles)

By Octavio Serrano

The key a healthy life is to remain active and that’s worked for cancer survivors Lorenzo Sullivan and Diane Owens.

Owens, 68, and Sullivan, 72, forged a friendship during their 12 years working out at the Valley of the Sun Jewish Community Center in Scottsdale. More than a gym, it is a community.

“If I just wanted to work out, I’d go to the YMCA, but at the J., with me being a Christian and with Judaism being so close in their faith traditions, I feel right at home here,” Sullivan says.

Sullivan—a Phoenix resident who was raised in Memphis—has been active most of his life. Ten years ago, the Vietnam veteran realized he needed help getting back into shape. He contacted the JCC trainers.

“I was 216 pounds and I was 38 inches the waist and I’m now 166 and 32 inches in the waist,” Sullivan says.

Achieving his goal was not easy, though, because Sullivan has had a myriad of procedures since he joined JCC.

“I had prostate cancer from the exposure in Vietnam. I wound up having to have my adrenal gland removed,” Sullivan says.

In the past 10 years, he also had double rotator cuff and knee surgeries. Sullivan says he started slow, but with the trainers’ help, he progressed to a more intense exercise routine.

“Now I am up to 11 pieces of equipment a day and I come every day. There are people that think I work here,” Sullivan says with a laugh.

The trainers, Sullivan says, take their time to understand their clients’ fitness goals and challenge them to beat them.

“They want to find out what you’ve been doing up to that point, so it’s very comprehensive,” Sullivan says. “We had professionals here who can help us if we need them. Even if you don’t sign up for a personal trainer, you can always call them, and they’ll show you how to use something.”

Joe Green, the fitness director at JCC, says Sullivan and Owens’ age group faces the same challenges as younger generations. They struggle with consistency and knowing how to exercise in a gym.

“We do assessments and that is a chance to meet with folks from the very beginning and to find out more about them and to understand their needs and their limitations,” Green says. “We learn about their medical history and their goals looking toward the future.”

Membership sales lead Neil Erlich says it’s common for people to believe they must be Jewish to join the JCC.

“We’re not just a Jewish Community Center, we’re everybody’s community center,” Erlich says.

He says the fitness community center’s members are diverse, and its mission is solely to enhance guests’ fitness.

“The mission here is really to build connection for the community as well as set an environment of physical, spiritual and mental growth, and I think we’re always striving for that,” Erlich says.

Like Sullivan, Owens, of Scottsdale, has faced physical challenges during her 12 years at the JCC. She found a family in the center.

“I finally decided to get serious about fitness in my late fifties,” Owens says. “I started with Zumba and I’ve been doing it for probably eight or nine years.”

The key to the JCC is the quality of the classes and the rapport with the trainers. That’s especially important to Owens.

“A little over a year ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer,” Owens says. “I was back two weeks after my surgery.”

The JCC is like a family, she says. When her daughter died more than two years ago from brain cancer, the members and trainers offered emotional and fitness support.

“Being able to work out and have the support from my teachers is really important to me,” she says.

Sullivan works out daily and he is always happy to walk through the front doors. The charismatic Sullivan says being part of the community and talking to fellow members is what keeps him coming back.

“I walk in here and sing at the top of my lungs and talk to everybody and it doesn’t bother anybody so, that’s the most unique thing about it,” Sullivan says.

Valley of the Sun Jewish Community Center

12701 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale

480-634-4944, vosjcc.org